Asia Commons

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The Asia Commons is an attempt to see how ideas of the Commons are specifically applicable to Asian conditions, and may be distinctive from other forms.

It is also the name of a conference, held in early June 2006 in Bangkok, the capital in Thailand. The event was attended by over a hundred people, mostly from Asia.

The Concept of an 'Asia Commons'[edit]

There are some theses on why the Commons idea in Asia would be different from those elsewhere. For example:

  • common village land is still in existence in Asia, not in the West;
  • the problems of access are more serious in most Asian countries;
  • unauthorized copying/sharing of software, music and audio CDs or DVDs is more common than in the West.

More specifically, the term Asia Commons is the movement to create and sustain the Commons in Asia.

The Commons, as a concept[edit]

There are many type of commons, but the focus could be divided basically into two—natural resources, and man-made resources.

The commons is:

  • any common resource that is available to all (but can be defined locally, or specifically as 'everybody in category x')
  • a series of specific institutional formats used to manage such
  • the movement that promotes them.

The open/free, participatory/p2p, and commons are a related the three-legged stool of paradigms:

  • Free and open -- ensures access to the raw material to build the common
  • Participatory -- refers to the process of broad participation in order to actually build it
  • The commons is the institutional format -- used to prevent private appropriation of said creations
  • Cyclical -- The circle is closed when commons-generated material is again free/open raw material for the next cycle of the circulation of the commons.

The Asia Commons Conference: June 6–8, 2006[edit]

Asia Commons, or the Asian Conference on the Digital Commons, was a conference held between June 6 to 8, 2006 in Bangkok, Thailand. It's website says that during the past two decades, the "level, scope, territorial extent, and role of copyrights and patents have expanded into new sectors, often without development considerations".

The conference discussed issues pertaining to the Asian Digital Commons, Free/Libre and Open Source Software, business models and collaborative models, Intellectual Property Rights, patents, copyrights, copylefts, the grey economy and its impact on the Asian "developing world", ideas of the Creative Commons, alternate law practices, access to knowledge (a2k), Open Access, open alternatives, peer-to-peer (P2P) practices and open standards.

Goal, purpose[edit]

The Asia Commons event was aimed at creating "many opportunities where deep discussions and exchange can happen". The conference organisers said they "recognise that all participants have experience and ideas that are relevant and as a result, expect them to contribute to the discussions on issues and topics of interest."

Organisers said (in a conference kit presented to participants) that through an exchange of experience and knowledge, the Asia Commons conference aimed at bringing participants together to:

  • Increase understanding of the effects of copyrights and patents, specially software patents, on access to knowledge and culture in Asia.
  • Conceptualise locally-relevant models for collaborative creation and dissemination of knowledge and culture.
  • Enhance partnerships to build collaboration through collaborative projects.
  • Identify information gaps and further areas of research.
  • Contribute towards the production of material for wider dissemination and decision-making.

Participation[edit]

Some 137 participants were listed to take part in the event. They came in from a range of countries from Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong (PRC), India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Vietnam) and beyond (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Israel, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, UK, the USA, Zambia and Zimbabwe).

Some of the organisations represented in this meet included the International Open Source Network (IOSN), BytesForAll, FOSSFP: Free and Open Source Software Foundation of Pakistan, the Internet Archive, UNESCO, the Bangalore (India)-based Alternative Law Forum, Open Forum of Cambodia, the Open Source Software Foundry of the Academia Sinica's Institute of Information Science, the US-based Consumer Project on Technology, the Association for Progressive Communications, the P2P Foundation based in Thailand, the Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication, Creative Commons Israel, and the Korean Progressive Network Center.

Participants were encouraged to join in the conference documentation through the wiki, blogs, and photo galleries. Prior to the event, a mailing-list was launched, which is still functioning at the time of writing (in mid-June). Its archives are available online.

A full listing of conference participants, including profiles, is available.

Speakers[edit]

Some of the speakers included Peter Drahos of the Australian National University and Jamie Love of the Consumer Project on Technology, both of whom were joint keynote speakers. Bangalore based lawyer of the Alternate Law Forum Lawrence Liang, independent writer and researcher Vijayalakshmi Balakrishnan of New Delhi, Dr N.S. Gopalakrishnan of the Cochin University of Science and Technology and Choong Hee Lee of the Seoul National University were among the other speakers. The participatory spectogram session on "Patents and Innovation" included as keynote speakers, FOSS advocate Fouad Riaz Bajwa of Free and Open Source Foundation of Pakistan (FOSSFP) and advocate Rahul Matthan of Trilegal, India with the session led by Laurent Elder of IDRC.

There were sessions on "History of the Commons, Evolution of Copyright and the Emergence of the Digital Economy: Exploring the Relationships", "Copyright and the Information Grey Economy: A Regional Comparison", "Patents and Innovation", and "Open Business Models".

Using the "speed sharing" model, there was also a session on collaborative projects. Each speaker, talked to small groups of participants, and had just three minutes in which to explain their work and concepts. This was followed by a session of 'round tables' on the issue of collaborative models: factors that lead to successful collaborations, opportunities and challenges.

Towards the end, the focus shifted to building an overview of the Asia Commons—ideas and issues, issues and opportunities, what could be done to move forward, and what is being moved forward.

Organisers[edit]

This event was organised at the Chaophya Park Hotel and organised by Bellanet International Secretariat, the Delhi-based Centre for Science, Development and Media Studies (CSDMS), South Asia Partnership International, and the United Nations Development Programme Asia Pacific Development Information Programme's International Open Source Network (IOSN).

This event was financially supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada and UNDP APDIP's International Open Source Network (IOSN). Local partners in organising the event were the Asian Institute of Technology based in Bangkok and the Thai Rural Net (TRN).

It was a Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP) members' event.

Open Space[edit]

This event used the 'open space' approach to focus on issues of relevance.

As defined elsewhere in the Wikipedia: "Open Space Technology enables groups of any size to address complex, important issues and achieve meaningful results quickly. It is at its best where more traditional meeting formats fail: when there is conflict, complexity, diversity of thought or people and short decision times. It has been used in widely diverse settings, from designing airplane doors at a large airplane manufacturing company to engaging street kids in defining a sustainable jobs program. Originated by Harrison Owen in 1986, Open Space has been used in over 100 countries and in diverse settings, industries, cultures and situations - for program and product design, knowledge exchange, interdisciplinary thinking, conflict resolution and conferences."

Organisers of the event were quoted as saying that they had doubts whether the Open Space approach would be suitable in Asia. But it was.

Issues emerging from the 'open space' sessions[edit]

Emergent issues[edit]

One of the issues to emerge from the meeting was a regional (Asia-wide) focus on Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS, or FOSS). Diosdado "Dong" Calmada of the Philippines held a session with this concern. He was keen to look at why Asia had so many GNU/Linux user groups, but seldom seemed to care about the big picture. This region, he suggested, was too concerned about its own technical problems. "There's a need to broaden the perspective of our groups. After all, LUGs (Linux-user groups) are potent forces," he was quoted as saying. It was felt that Asia, with all its tech skills and software talent, is all but invisible in the world of Free Software and Open Source. People do not link up with one another, within countries or across borders. There's little communication happening within the otherwise successful FOSS movement across this vast continent.

Michel Bauwens of the P2PFoundation, which has a wide variety of links to P2P or peer-to-peer networking examples, explained his perspective saying, "The basic idea I had was that there's a new social movement emerging, which is really about extending the realm of participation to the whole of life. We live in a representative democracy, which says you can vote every four years, and choose which people who exercise power on your behalf... now we're building tools and resources which say everybody needs to be involved, and everybody should have a voice (in other areas too, apart from just voting)."

Paola di Maio, another participant, narrated her experiences in deploying technology to cope with the fury of nature, as reflected in the December 26, 2004 Asian tsunami. She commented: "Our emergency collaboration model emerged after we became familiar with the tsunami. I was in Thailand then. My internet was working but all the phone were down. So I got online via my tiny mobile, and was looking for information. We knew something big had happened, but there was simply no news emerging. One or two hours after the wave hit, there were headlines reporting an 'earthquake'."

Sacha of Indymedia in the US shared his group's experience with building alternatives from the grassroots. Currently, the Indymedia global network of participatory journalism has local units in 160 cities in 80 countries, ans every continent. He said: "Indymedia was created in 1999 to cover the WTO (World Trade Organisation) Ministerial and protests against it in Seattle. There were some 5000 activists taking part. Many strands from the Global Justice Movement joined in."

Lawrence Liang, a lawyer trained at the prestigious National Law School of India, had a session along with others on "countering IP propaganda". Ronaldo Lemos from Rio de Janeiro's Fundação Getúlio Vargas school of law referred to Yochai Benkler's book, The Wealth of Networks. He also pointed to Jimmy Wales, who has said that in the foreseeable future there would be 12 fields that would become free. These things are: the encyclopedia, the dictionary, academic curriculum, music, art in general, file formats, maps, product identifiers, search engines, production made by communities, TV listings, academic publishing. Ronaldo Lemos felt that things lacking in this list included news and software.

Said Delhi-based independent writer and researcher Vijayalakshmi "Viju" Balakrishnan: "In Asia, the history of (colonial) trade has largely been sea-based trade. And the language and philosophy now governing the way cyberspace is being controlled has strong parallels to what we saw in the seventeenth century. Free trade has functioned through pirate-based models. There were cartels or guild-power. For us in India it was the East India Company. For our friends in South East Asia, it was the VOC or the Dutch East India Company. Today, it's the Wintel (Windows-Intel) combo. In comparison to the state-control model of the past, we now have the story of how Google enters China."

A number of other issues also emerged from the conference, which are aptly captured in the conference discussion list, wiki and multiple blogs.

Advisors to the Event[edit]

Members of the Asia Commons advisory group are networked through this list. Those thanked for giving their "valuable advice" in shaping the Asia Commons conference includes (in a list which "is not complete... and will continue to grow") include Lawrence Liang of the Alternative Law Forum, iCommons director Paula Le Dieu, Creative Commons South Africa director Heather Ford, Open Society Foundation information programme manager Vera Franz, IDRC Pan Asia Networking team leader Laurent Elder, IDRC Pan Asia's Frank Tulus, International Open Source Network manager Sunil Abraham, and Association of Asian Confederation of Credit Union's Ranjith Hettiarachchi.

External links[edit]